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December 2012 Policy Study, Number 12-12


Water, Water Everywhere, but Not a Drop for Power


Innivative Hyrdoelectric Technology



Though the traditional, standard hydroelectric turbine system works well and is high reliable, many in the industry are promoting new, more efficient and less expensive technologies specifically for use with low-head dams.


Along with this, many environmental groups – who have previously argued for the complete removal of dams and returning rivers to their “wild” state where fish can “swim free” – are now recognizing that it makes both environmental and economic sense to use the renewable energy potential at dams which are already in place.


As evidence, a spokesperson for the Hydropower Reform Coalition in Washington, D.C., recently agreed that if a dam “is not likely to go away anytime soon, why not use it for another useful purpose?”[47]


The development of new, modular technologies specifically designed for low-head and retrofit situations should further the expansion of hydroelectric power on non-powered dams and water systems nationwide.


For example, Hydro Green Energy, based in Illinois, has designed and applied for a patent on a “modular steel frame with embedded turbines,” which is a surface-suspended system that attaches to a dam. It is specifically designed for low-head dam usage.[48]


The U.S. Department of Energy has provided them with grants worth $1.8 million for further development and they have applied for installation approval at seven projects on the Mississippi. If fully developed, there would be a capacity of 56 megawatts of power generation at these sites.


The turbines Coastal Hydropower is proposing to use in the Lock and Dam #18 project at Burlington are also designed for a low-head system and to be very “fish-friendly,” with a rotation speed of only 35 rpm, versus a 900 rpm on a standard turbine.[49]


In California, Lucid Energy recently installed “in-pipe” hydropower systems into the Riverside Public Utilities water pipeline. These turbines require “minimal changes” to the base infrastructure and generate power as the water passes through 60-inch water pipes on its normal way to the customer. The LucidPipe Power Systems can be installed in municipal, industrial, and even agricultural operations that require large volumes of water flow. The technical term for these systems is “water-to-wire.”


At a minimum, these systems are expected to be independently self-sustaining, so that the organization does not have to pay for electricity from the main grid. The company expects to see significant demand for the technology as aging water system infrastructure is replaced over the next 20 years.[50]


Here in Iowa, Amjet Turbine Systems in Keokuk has been developing a modular hydropower technology since 2009. They were recently awarded almost $250,000 in grants from the Iowa Economic Development (IED) Authority and the U.S. Department of Energy for further development of their “compact, low-weight, low-cost turbine/generator system.”[51]


This technology originated with marine propulsion water jets. The funds from the IED will be used to do design and commercialization of the system, hopefully leading to further private-sector funding.[52]


A one-eighth scale system was successfully tested at the University of Iowa in 2011, producing 40 kilowatts of electricity. This is enough to power about 13 houses. The full-size system is anticipated to power about 833 homes for a year. In Phase II, during 2013, Amjet will be building and testing a full-scale unit, at a cost of about $1 million. Phase III will be full installation and a trial of the system on a dam site and is estimated to require about $10 million in funding.[53] Amjet anticipates creating 300 direct jobs over the next five years as they expand their system into production.




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